Indians suffered a perplexing form of racism in the old Santa Rosa newspapers. As with other minorities, the racism was mostly passive: They were simply ignored, except when a serious crime was committed or there was a demeaning incident that the editor viewed as entertaining (even better if it could be written up in comic dialect).
Yet at the same time, editors resisted dipping the pen into the inkwell of snark when it came to writing about Indians as a race, as shown in the sympathetic 1907 articles below on the desperate conditions of Native people in Northern California. This was also an expression of racism – a domestic version of “The White Man’s Burden,” suggesting that Indian welfare had to be managed by missionaries and federal agents. These presumptions go back to the origins of Frontier America, and were probably best summarized in the “Lo! the Poor Indian!” chapter from Horace Greeley’s 1860 book, “An Overland Journey:”
But the Indians are children…they are utterly incompetent to cope in any way with the European or Caucasian race. Any band of schoolboys, from ten to fifteen years of age, are quite as capable of ruling their appetites, devising and upholding a public policy, constituting and conducting a state or community, as an average Indian tribe. And, unless they shall be treated as a truly Christian community would treat a band of orphan children providentially thrown on its hands, the aborigines of this country will be practically extinct within the next fifty years.
These benevolent services could best be rendered, of course, if the Indians were restricted and isolated on distant reservations. If the Indians were viewed as “children” they were treated as unwanted ones, whom the Americans wanted to neither see nor hear.
A third kind of media racism can be found in articles that touched upon the “pioneer” years. Here the Indians were treated as a caveman-like race who lived here ‘way back in antiquity. Sometimes they weren’t mentioned at all, leaving the impression that the Anglo and Hispanic whites discovered an empty Eden. In another story below, Thomas Hopper recalls the days when he saw great herds of elk roamed “everywhere about this section.” Hopper – an illiterate man who became a successful banker because of his knack for numbers – first came to Sonoma county in 1849, when there was still an Indian presence in the area (the round up and death march to Round Valley started around 1857), and hunting wild elk would have been one of the few sources of meat still available to them.
Below are also a pair of 1907 reports describing workmen coming across an Indian grave in Sebastopol. In both local papers, it’s presented as a curiosity; “It is generally believed the spot was once a Indian burial ground,” the Republican noted. What both papers failed to reveal was that the remains were found on the perimeter of the Indian cemetery on the Walker ranch, which was still active at the time, with the last known burial in 1912. (MORE on the Indian community in Sebastopol.)
To be fair, we can only make benign assumptions as to why both papers omitted any link in those stories to Indian culture. Whether or not old Tom Hopper was one of the few living people who might have witnessed a Pomo or Coast Miwok elk hunt probably didn’t seem interesting. It’s doubtful the editors saw any hypocrisy in their respectful and lengthy obituaries of any old “pioneer” who died and their offhand description of ditch-diggers handling someone’s old bones. Intentional or no, the Indians disappeared a little bit more with each column-inch of print, and their legitimate right to be here a little further diminished.
INDIANS ASK PROTECTION
Want Better Conditions for the Tribesman
Edward Posh and William Benson, two prominent Indians of this county and Mendocino county respectively, have returned from the conference recently held at Mount Hermon, where matters for the betterment of the Indians were discussed. There were nineteen Indians present at the conference and they petitioned the great white father at Washington to supply the needs. In the memorial sent to the nation’s capital, the first thing the Indians request is that lands and homes be provided for twelve thousand out of the seventeen thousand Indians in this state. Five thousand are provided for in the Round Valley reservation. Mr. Posh estimates that there are between three and four hundred Indians scattered through Sonoma county.
The second request is that the Indians be provided with common schools that they may learn to read and write and that industrial schools be established for the young people that they may learn some useful occupation. They also ask that the laws be enforced relative to the selling of liquor to Indians and suggest that the laws be amended so that no person with Indian blood in his veins shall be able to secure liquor. They ask that the party selling and the party purchasing liquor both be punished. Among the other suggestions made for the Indians is that they be provided with a field physician appointed by the government to attend sick tribesmen, and that they be provided with legal protection that they may secure justice in all the courts when involved in litigation.
– Santa Rosa Republican, July 22, 1907
SONOMA INDIANS AT MT. HERMON
Efforts to Be Made to Secure Allotment of Lands for Redmen of This County
Twenty Indians – nineteen men and one woman, all members of the Sonoma county Indian tribes – returned on Sunday from Mount Hermon in Santa Cruz county, where the Northern California Indian Missionary Society has been meeting last week. One of the Indian leaders is Edward Posh, an intelligent man with some education, who told a reporter Monday that he and his people believe some good will result from the efforts of this society to better the condition of the native tribes of northern California, who have suffered much at the hands of the white men, and who are now for the most part destitute.
“My home, I have none,” he said when he was asked where his home was. “None of us have homes. That’s the trouble with us. That’s what the Indian Association is trying to get for us.”
“Five objects are sought by the Association,” said Edward Posh. The first of these is homes for the homeless Indians. The second is education – common school education for the Indian children and industrial education for those who are grown. The third thing sought is protection from the drink evil. It is well known that the use of liquor by Indians brings results much worse than the use of liquor by white men. The Indians themselves ask further protection from this evil by asking that the government impose heavier penalties upon those white men who supply intoxicants to members of the tribes; and they ask, also, that the law punish Indians who buy liquor as well as white men who sell to them.
“The fifth thing asked by the Association is that the government provide us with doctors. When an Indian gets sick, he generally suffers and dies or suffers and gets well with no medical attendance. Few of us have any money; none of us have much; and there are few doctors anywhere near us. And of those who are near, not many will attend us, for there is poor prospect for a fee.”
J. A. Gilchrist is the manager of the Indian missions. The Rev. J. A. Johnson of Berkeley, is one of those leading the movement for the betterment of the tribes. They say that the difficulty of the Indian problem is not due to any stubbornness of the Indians themselves, nor to any improvidence or to unfitness to be civilized. They declare that the government itself has repeatedly broken faith with the natives despoiled them of their lands on promise to give them others and neglected or refused to keep the promise. They term the last 100 years of United States history “A Century of Dishonor” in its reference to dealings with the aborigines, and they seek to make amends for it in all possible ways.
– Press Democrat, July 13, 1907
THOS. HOPPER SAW DROVES OF ELK
Well Known Pioneer Recalls Early Days When Antlered Herd Roamed at Will Here
“I saw elk in droves when I first came to this country, and shot quite a number of them. I remember not only seeing them wandering here and there on the site where Santa Rosa stands today, but everywhere about this section,” said Thomas Hopper, the well known pioneer and capitalist as he surveyed the big stuffed elk in the Press Democrat building on Thursday.
“I remember seeing one of the largest drove of elks I ever saw over near Bloomfield, and one time saw two fine ones down on the Cotati. I tell you they were big fellows.”
Mr. Hopper, despite his eighty-seven years, walked down town briskly on Thursday morning from his McDonald avenue residence. He has just returned from an outing on Wesley Hopper’s ranch near town, and while there took a little exercise at splitting stove wood with an axe. The exercise he says drove away the rheumatism from his shoulder.
– Press Democrat, October 12, 1907
SEBASTOPOL WORKMEN DIG UP HUMAN BONES
Workmen for the Petaluma and Santa Rosa electric railroad in digging a trench at Sebastopol recently, came across many human bones in the earth they threw from the trench. The bones were examined to ascertain if they were really from human beings. In the same spot the workmen discovered some flint arrow heads and some beads, indicating that the bones were those of Indians. Whether the men had been killed or died a peaceful death will never be known. It is generally believed the spot was once a Indian burial ground.
– Santa Rosa Republican, July 19, 1907
UNEARTH HUMAN BONES
While engaged in widening the electric company’s roadbed on Petaluma avenue this week workmen uncovered a skeleton surrounded by a stone mortar and pestle and numerous flint arrow heads. It is believed to be the remains of an Indian buried in the years long past. The bones were almost dust and many of them crumbled when handled. An old Indian burying ground is supposed to have been opened and if the excavations are carried on other finds may be reported.
– Press Democrat, July 19, 1907